Battle of Bethesda Church

The following excerpt from H. N. Minnigh’s “History of Company K. 1st (Inft,) Penn’a Reserves” (iBooks) will set the stage for this portion of Danner’s diary.

“Gen. Lee withdrew his forces to a strong position south of the North Anna river, and Gen’l Grant followed with the Union army in quick pursuit. We reached the river and crossed at Jericho ford on the 23rd, and spent three days in reconnoitering the position of the enemy, and then by a flank movement to the left, compelled Lee to abandon the strong position he had taken.

The Union array crossed the Pamunky river on the 28th of May, the Fifth and Ninth corps crossing at Hanover Ferry, thus bringing us once more near the locality where the terrible scenes of 1862 were enacted. Communications were opened with White-house Landing, and a new base of supplies thus secured.

Our Brigade on the 30th of May was sent out on the Mechanicsville road, near Bethesda church, to prevent a possible surprise by the enemy from that direction. Having advanced a short distance we were formed in brigade front and ordered to throw up a barricade. Company K. soon did the work that fell to their lot, and every man soon was seeking to get what rest he could, under the shade of a convenient hedge fence.

We were aroused by the sharp rattle of musketry on both flanks of the brigade, and discovered further, that the position had been abandoned, while we were sleeping, (an unheard-of thing, but easily explained,) and we were seemingly, alone on the line of breast-works. Quickly arousing the men, each hurriedly took in the situation, then, such skedadling to the rear was never seen before, “every man for himself, and the de’il take the hindmost.” All soon were gone except five. H. C. Elden, Cal. Harbaugh, A. H. Blocher, G. W. Pensyl and Capt. Minnigh, the three last named running the risk of capture, in their efforts to induce Harbaugh and Elden to run the gauntlet as their comrades had done. This they refused to do, saying “I’ll not do it; and be shot down like a dog.” The situation was of course an awful one, for the rebels were now in our works on both flanks, and the race for liberty must necessarily be in the range of every rebel musket. Turning to Pensyl, as the two men threw themselves on the ground, thus deciding the question, I said, “Now let us skip out.” Geo. W. do you remember that foot-race? Hey? Do you mind the fence, all grown up with red briars, the “durned old haversack” filled with potatoes, that you wanted to get rid of, and could’nt? Well, we all got out safe, while Harbaugh and Elden were transferred to an awful southern prison.

The Brigade now took up a new position, threw up a barricade, and awaited the advance of the enemy, who soon was seen, in a well dressed line of battle, emerging from the cover of the woods, two-hundred yards to the front. Orders were given not to fire one shot until the enemy reached the line of an old fence half-way across the open space between us. We never saw so deliberate an advance by the enemy, in all our three years experience, as this was. Brave specimen of American soldiery they were, consciously facing death, they came on. Two sections of a divided battery, one on the right the other on the left, with enfilading fire, opened on them, then the infantry added their missiles of destruction; they come no further, a few turn and flee to the cover of the woods, the firing ceases and an advance is ordered, when the only enemy we find are the torn and shapeless forms, that literally cover the ground, they were “annihilated.” (Rebel records.)”


Page 18

[May] 22nd [1864] — Sunday. Moved our line of battle in front of a barn. Remained there about 4 hours. Then advanced on the rebels. We was thrown out as flankers the greater part of the day. We had nothing to eat except a few sweet potatoes that…

Page 19

…we dug up which had just been planted. When the troops had halted, the regiment was taken out on picket. Jim [Rouzer] and I went to a house and got four corn cakes baked. Then roasted some fresh meat on our gun rammers and made some coffee. We eat our supper, then stood our turn of picket.

[May] 28th [1864] — Monday. Marched this morning again over the North Anna River and built rifle pits. We was attacked by the rebs before we got them finished. They was repuled with heavy loss and lost a great many prisoners. They were worn out and give themselves up. We hold the railroad. Today we captured about 36 bushels of fine salt after crossing [the river].

Page 20

[May] 24th [1864] — Tuesday. Our regiment formed a junction with the Second Corps to let the 9th Army Corps cross the river. We was thrown out as skirmishers and advanced three miles down the river, then built another rifle pit. Heavy fighting going on all day and raining towards the latter part of the evening. [Jim] Rouzer got supper while I ___ at the rifle pit. We then put up our tent.

[May] 25th [1864] — Wednesday. Was ordered out on the skirmish line this morning and had one man wounded (John J. Duey ¹) in the leg. Skirmished till twelve o’clock and was then relieved by the 7th Indiana Regiment. Returned to the rifle pits and remained there all night. It commenced raining before we got our tents put up.

Page 21

[May] 26th [1864] — Thursday. Laid in the rear of our rifle pits till evening. Then recrossed the river.

[May] 27th [1864] — Friday. Marched towards the Pamunky River. I got lost from the regiment this morning and got on the road that the 6th Corps marched on. I passed the 6th Corps about 4 o’clock today and marched with ½ mile of the river.

[May] 28th [1864] — Saturday. I was lost yesterday from the regiment and remained at the river this morning till they passed over the pontoons. I saw Felix Wise this morning. He was taken prisoner and brought into our lines by our cavalry with twenty other prisoners. He looks well and is in good spirits. The regiment passed over the pontoons today.

Page 22

We put rifle pits and remained in them all night.

[May] 29th [1864] — Sunday. Started this morning to go on picket. We halted about an hour and in the meantime to rest. Jim [Rouzer] boiled a coffee pot full of beans on the road and they was quite a luxury for we had nothing to eat today yet. After we arrived at the picket line, Jim [Rouzer] started out and got some corn flour and baked two large corn cakes and I made the coffee. We eat our supper, then went on duty.

[May] 30th [1864] — Monday. We advanced on the rebels today at ten o’clock and drove them three miles. We was then repulsed back about ½ mile. I was wounded in the left leg but not badly. We then rallied and built a rifle pit. The rebels flanked us before we got our line formed.

Page 23

The rebels then made a charge on us. They came up five columns deep and was repulsed with heavy loss. They tried the strength of our line in two places but was compelled to fall back. We gained the day.

[May] 31st [1864] — Tuesday. The Division was relieved today from the Army of the Potomac. This evening the regiment was formed and the order was given for all the veterans to step forward leaving but ten of the boys in the ranks. They was then marched to headquarters for some orders. We marched off the battlefield about four o’clock this evening. The band played Home Again. We halted three miles in the rear or near the wagon train.


¹ According to H. N. Minnigh’s book, John J. Duey joined the company at its origin, and was made 2nd Sergeant. He deserted from camp at Shargsburg, Md. and was reduced to the ranks, by order of Col. Roberts October 17. ’62, and December 29, returned to the company. In the Wilderness campaign he was notably brave and daring, and on the 16th of May near Spottsylvania, he was very severely wounded by a minnie ball, and was sent to the hospital. We heard that he died there, but no official notice of such fact was ever received. On December 29. ’63, he re-enlisted as a veteran volunteer.”

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